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«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»

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As we shall see, Lear's limerick illustrations show a deliberate simplification in line, embellishment, and detail. Shading is often absent, or kept to a crude minimum. What detail is given, what lines are drawn, are careful and deliberate, expressing with the least amount of ink the complicated relationship between picture and poem. In their exaggerated simplicity, they betray a resemblance to the overly simple pre-Bewick woodcuts and an opposition to the fashion for increasing ornamentation. Lear's illustrations, which usually have a certain, if problematic, relationship with the text, could also be said to mock the carelessness or indifference of many children's book publishers who would mismatch 122\Vhalley and Chester, p. 5-t.

picture and text, such as in The Christian Alphabet, or, Good Child's First Book, descri bed above.

Lear's book was also a throwback in its format. Around the 1840s illustration was just beginning to become popular for its own sake in children's books. Toy books, or what we would now call "picture books," began to appear--volumes which were mainly ornate illustration, with perhaps a little text. Later in the century illustrators like Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott would become highly successful through their toy books, but in the 1840s they were just beginning. 123 The first edition of A Book of Nonsense included monochrome lithographed illustrations (an unusual practice in children's books, though chromolithography was just starting to become popular) in two volumes costing 3s. 6d. each, a hefty sum at the time.1 24 If we compare these volumes to the "Felix Summerly" (pseudonym for Sir Henry Cole) books, we see the market for which Lear's books were meant. Summerly's traditional tales, issued from about 1841 onwards, sold for 6d. plain, and Is. coloured. These volumes were well-made, printed on good paper with large type, and illustrated by well-known artists--all qualities distinguishing these works from lower publications and chapbooks. They were also distributed in larger, collected volumes, for around 3s. 6d., the same price as one of Lear's volumes. 125 These more expensive Summerly books were coloured and bound in cloth gilt and were clearly meant for a wealthy audience. In contrast, Lear's books, rather than being opulent, were rather plain. They sold for a high enough price that their audience would have expected the quality and detail of Summerly's books, or at least colour, but they were stark black and white, with none of the ornamentation that was becoming so popular. Though in a format different from chapbooks, the overall presentation of Lear's limericks reflected the older chapbooks, exaggerating both the good and bad of those early efforts at amusement.

Before moving on to Lear's nonsense illustrations, we must first recognize that he came to them neither entirely spontaneously nor without some experimentation. During the 123\Vhalley and Chester, pp. 101-2 124Noakes, p. 66.

I 25Darton. pp. 2..t2-3.

1830s, while he resided frequently at Knowsley Estate in order to draw its menagerie, he also began his first known drawings for children. Lear treated the many Knowsley children to sketches of popular nursery rhymes, songs, and "nonsenses," or what \ e no\ call limericks. However, he did not illustrate all of these in the same manner. Two series of drawings, probably from the mid-1830s, demonstrate a style of illustration quite different from the limerick drawings. In ''The Adventures of Daniel O'Rourke" and ''The Adventures of Mick," Lear's style is more sketchy, and also more realistic. Take, for example, the illustrations of "Daniel O'Rourke's merriment" and "Mick accepts the bottle" [see next page]. The illustrations for these series exhibit a less confident line coupled with an attempt to depict the text accurately, both qualities that Lear would often drop or distort in illustrating the limericks. These illustrations attempt a sense of proportion and depth, and the actions depicted are given full execution within the illustration. In the drawing for "Mrs. Judy O'Rourke interprets [interrupts?] her husband's dream," we see Mrs.

O'Rourke throwing a bucket of water onto her husband. Unlike in the limerick drawings, the action is clearly occurring: the lines representing water slash into Daniel 's face, and he frowns in displeasure at being so rudely awoken, or perhaps because of his dream, or both.

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This example shows clear action and realistic reaction. Lear's limerick drawings, however, rarely allow such physical contact in the case of violence and usually confuse the situation by having the "victim" appear to react in a way contrary to the difficult circumstances. Lear's "Old Man of the Nile" is typical of this picture/poem disparity in hi


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The Old Man's actions seem to be disconnected from the apparent results. The enormous saw-like file hovers away from his right thumb, which is disconnected from his body and inexplicably far from the action's probable site. His other thumb falls as well, it seems, from the tip of the file, but how he manages this while holding the file is quite perplexing.

His enigmatic smile and pleased, closed-eye countenance complete the nonsense picture/poem unit, softening and confusing the action described in the text by virtue of several visual/verbal incongruities and a sense of physical disconnectedness with action.

Lear's true nonsense drawings, like in the Old Man of the Nile, shy away from such direct, unequivocal portrayals as seen in ''The Adventures of Daniel O'Rourke" and "The Adventures of Mick. "126 Though there is certainl y a sense of humour throughout the e two series, particularly in Lear's depiction of an 0 ersized eagle and the Man in the M n

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they seem to be somewhat stilted. We see, however, some of the traits that would emerge more strongly in the limerick illustrations, such as, in the above ill ustration of Daniel 's merriment, the odd, comical crowd sketched simply, yet expressively. A few of the figures in ''The Adventures of Mick" (p. 205) also resemble the limericks' more child-like figures, but the differences are far greater. Nearly all that was original in Lear's nonsense drawings would come only with his original limericks.

Lear also illustrated some of the limericks found in the volume that inspired him, the Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen (c. 1821), but like the two stories, in a slightly different manner.l 27 In the drawings for two of these, the "old soldier of Bicester" and the "sick man of Tobago" he demonstrates a different style, although in this case progressively closer to that which he would use for his own limericks. The first drawing for the "sick man of Tobago" is a fairl Ywell-executed and detailed caricature. 128

Compare this to Lear's own limerick appearing in A Book of Nonsense:

127This chapbook was illustrated by Robert Cruikshank and possibly written b R.. harpe (Pet r n, "Edward Lear" in The Art of Poetry: The Oxford Lecutres 1984-1989 (New Ha en, ondon: Yal.p, 1991), pp.169-186 (p. 173).

12 Lear in the Original. p. 53.

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The illustrations are strikingly similar (though the verses different), yet the latter is much more characteristic of Lear's true style: the heavily distorted body, the legs flying, and the simple lines which manage to express the old man's feelings, all contribute to this somehow fitting and expressive "miive" style. The next two drawings for the sick man of Tobago become far more typically Learian, almost as if Lear, by progressing from the representational to the absurd, were inventing the form for his nonsense limericks by illustration first.


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-------....-7-~ '

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We should also not ignore the different styles within the nonsense corpus: in particular, Lear's "Nonsense Botany" is drawn with the same expert eye that rivaled Audubon in wildlife drawing. Lear gave to these illustrations, which were very popular with his nineteenth-century audience, the same attention that he did his serious botanical

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plants. The alphabets as well are more realistically illustrated, though as we have seen in the last chapter, they are rarely nonsensical. The drawings for his nonsense songs, like ''The Owl and the Pussy-cat" and ''The Pobble Who Has No Toes " are child-like, but more plainly representational of their texts, rather than being inextricably interrelated, as in the limerick illustrations. The main style he would adopt and keep throughout fifty years of creating nonsense was thus reached after considerable experimentation, but it was not created in isolation from the book market.

129Lear published many drawings of birds and other wildlife. Besides publishing his own olum,b worked for several years under John Gould and contributed to many natural hi tory publication., for ample, his indep ndent works: IllustratiollS of the Family ofPsittacidae. or Parrots (London' R.

k rmann and E. Lear, 1832) and Gleanings from the Menagerie and Aviary al Kno}1,.·s[ey Hall, d 1. ~.

ray (Pri ate] print d, 18-U:».

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Lear's unique style was derived partly from predecessors in eighteenth- and earlynineteenth century children's literature. It is probable that he, like so many other writers of the time, grew up exposed to chapbooks. 130 Within these crude works we can find some of the beginnings of his own nonsense-illustration style. As Feaver observes, Lear's illustrated nonsense works "were inspired and shaped to a great extent by the imagery their creator [s] had been brought up on. They are caricatured chapbooks. "131 For example, one of Harris's few chapbooks which was solely for children's amusement was The Comic Adventures a/Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog (1805). In this rhyming tale of Mother Hubbard's procuring for her dog proper attire, there are many humorous, if rough illustrations. At the end, the dog dons all he has been bought and becomes almost human himself. Unlike the more Bewickian engravings, these show relatively little detail and betray an amateurish hand. 132 130Dickens, for instance, makes repeated references to chapbooks. One s~ch instance i.s in Great ExpectatiOns (1861), which refers to Mother Hubbard's dog, who appeared 1ll an early-mneteenth century chapbook (Chapter XIX). The rhyme's history is described in Opie, p. 316. See also below.

131 Feaver, p. 9. See also R. L. Megroz, "The Master of Nonse.n~e," The C,0rnhill. Mag~ine '. 157 (January-June, 1938), 175-190 (p. 185). While both of these cntIcs note ~s. relatIonship, ~elther they nor any other source I have seen has explored it. Ann Colley, one of the few cntIcs to ~ave.wntte~ considerably on the nonsense drawings themselves, sees them as opposed to the re~sm 1ll Le~ s form.at.

art. See Colley, "Edward Lear's Limericks," pp. 285-299. See also Olson, who wntes of Lear s creatIOn of a new "comic picturesque," pp. 347-362.

132[Sarah Catherine Martin], The Comi~ Adventures o/Old.Mother Hubbard and Her D~g (l~on~on: John lIarris, 1805), facsimile copy (San \tarmo: Henry I. lIuntmgton LIhraI') and Art Galler), 1 X)_).

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The simple profile and distorted perspective give these illustrations the typical chapbook naivete, yet there is a certain humour and vivacity here which often did not appear in costlier volumes. An exception to this is the work of the young George Cruikshank, whose illustrations for German Popular Stories (1823) also demonstrated the beginnings of a wilder spirit in the nursery.

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So many of Lear's illustrations are full of this kind of vivacity and humour. Lear's figures, like Cruikshank's elves, dance in wild abandonment, but the relationship of Lear to his predecessors is closer than this simple, yet significant, attribute.

Lear tries to out-chapbook the chapbooks. Literary nonsense, as we have seen in the last chapter, usually has a close relationship with some source text and often borders on the parodic. This is also the case with Lear's illustrations, which take the conventions of the chapbook and other literature, and tum them on their head. Lear's "Old Man of Whitehaven," for example, shows a scene similar to that in Old Mother Hubbard and Her

Dog, of a human being dancing with an animal:

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The joke here, as in the many limericks that show close contact with human beings and animals, is that, rather than the animal becoming more human--the common trope found in fairy tales, folk legends, and nursery rhymes--the human beings become physically more animal-like.133 The Old Man here spreads his coat to look like wings of a bird. More

obvious is the old person of Skye:

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Again, Lear reverses the common joke of the animal turning human, adopting a common chapbook theme only to turn it upside-down. However, this was not simply a chapbook theme. Thomas Hood's adult light verse, Whims and Oddities (1826-7), portrays a similar kind of animal transfonnation. In the piece "Love Me, Love my Dog " the old woman pictured looks remarkably like her little bulldog, and therein lies part of the joke. 134 This kind of human transfonnation was quite rare in children's books, though, and much of Lear's accomplishment was to bring the sophistication of some aspects of "adul t" humour to the nursery.

The works that perhaps most influenced Lear were the volumes of limericks coming out starting around 1820. In comparison to these works, Lear's illustrations approach

caricature. His preface to More Nonsense tells of his inspiration for writing his limericks:

the somewhat obscure chapbook called Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen, of which we have already seen some of Lear's illustrations. Another volume, appearing about a year earlier, also seems to have influenced Lear, though he does not mention it.

The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women contains limericks with same-rhyme last lines, and, unlike the Anecdotes and Adventures of Fifteen Gentlemen, illu trati n \ hich 134Thoma Hood, Whims alld Oddities, 2nd edition(London: Lupton RIfe, 1827), p 9.

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